U.S. and NATO officials sought to reassure Afghans on Monday that the death of Osama bin Laden will not weaken the international commitment to fighting the Taliban insurgency, even as Afghan President Hamid Karzai said the strike in Pakistan shows that the fight against terrorism should focus more outside his country’s borders.
Mr. Karzai lauded bin Laden’s death as a serious blow to terrorism.
“This is a very important day. Maybe you have already heard on the television or on the radio that American forces have killed Osama bin Laden, delivering him his due punishment,” President Hamid Karzai told an assembly of district government officials in Kabul, prompting the hall to erupt in applause.
It’s unclear what bin Laden’s death will mean for the future of Afghanistan, where about 150,000 NATO troops, most of them American, are embroiled in daily fighting with Taliban insurgents. The Taliban just last week announced the beginning of their spring offensive, after having shown their strength by launching a string of deadly attacks from within government offices, military bases and police compounds.
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul issued a statement reassuring Afghans that they will not abandon Afghanistan now.
“This victory will not mark the end of our effort against terrorism. America’s strong support for the people of Afghanistan will continue as before,” Ambassador Karl Eikenberry said in the statement.
Similarly, NATO said its mission in Afghanistan will continue uninterrupted. “NATO allies and partners will continue their mission to ensure that Afghanistan never again becomes a safe haven for extremism, but develops in peace and security,” the alliance said.
Meanwhile, Mr. Karzai also used his speech to again chastise international forces for concentrating so much of their military effort in Afghanistan. He has repeatedly said that more of the focus should be across the border in Pakistan where al Qaida and Taliban leaders reportedly live.
“For years we have said that the fight against terrorism is not in Afghan villages and houses,” said Mr. Karzai. “It is in safe havens, and today that was shown to be true.”
He offered his appreciation to international and Afghan forces who have lost their lives in the nearly 10-year war in Afghanistan and expressed hope that bin Laden’s death could mean the end of terrorism. But he said now is the time to stop assaults that endanger or harass Afghan civilians.
“Stop bombarding Afghan villages and searching Afghan people,” Mr. Karzai said.
Mr. Karzai did pledge, however, that Afghanistan stands ready to do its part to help fight terrorists and extremists.
“We are with you and we are your allies,” he said, noting that many Afghans had died because of bin Laden’s terror network.
“Osama bin Laden was someone whose hands were dipped in the blood of thousands and thousands of Afghanistan’s children, youth and elders,” Mr. Karzai told reporters outside the building where he gave his speech.
Some Afghans said they hoped bin Laden’s death would make it easier for the Taliban, which has long had its fate tied to that of the al Qaida leader, to reconcile with the Afghan government.
“I think that now the Taliban will be free to make their own decision, and maybe these peace negotiations will finally have some success. They are also Afghan and we can’t fight with them forever,” said Agha Lalai, a member of the government council for southern Kandahar province.
An elderly man in Kandahar city who said he remembered when bin Laden arrived there under the protection of the Taliban and said that bin Laden had manipulated the Taliban and hoped that they would now be able to sever ties with al Qaeda.